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What has happened to AOL Hometown? The AOL Hometown problem revealed! Just think, if all those folks had gone to a proper hosting company like Vivostar, and had a definitive offline website they'd have been saved all this trouble! :-(
For a long while a great many websites have linked to numerous people's personal homepages at AOL Hometown. The problem is now, AOL have just shut it all down! This means that all those folks who had a website at AOL Hometown have LOST IT. That's a shocker! The following is AOL's excuse/explanation:
"AOL Important information regarding the shutdown of AOL Hometown, Journals (blogs) and KW FTP. We regret to inform you that AOL Hometown, AOL Journals (blogs) and KW FTP has been shut down. Sincerely, The AOL Team. AOL (UK) Limited. Registered in England and Wales under number 03462696 with its registered office at 68 Hammersmith Road, London W14 8YW. VAT Registration Number: 766 45 16 05"
So, that's it, is it? They decided to close down everyone's site at AOL, and then they just closed it. It sounds a bit like lost luggage and the care that's taken of it. Here's another excuse/explanation:
"Hometown has been Shut Down - Dear AOL Hometown user, We're sorry to inform you that as of Oct. 31, 2008, AOL® Hometown was shut down permanently. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Sincerely, The AOL Hometown Team"
This has left some people saying things like "Help! My website is gone!" ... "How do I get my files back?!" ... "You can't just close it and delete our files!" ... "What a shambles!" ... "Where is my homepage? It took me months to build it!" ... "Makes me feel sick!" ... "All the photos of my family have been lost!" ... etc.
There are even some people who speak of contacting their lawyers and suing AOL for losing their data, but the problem with that is it's very difficult as I am sure AOL will have got everyone to sign a contract saying that they take no liability for losing everyone's data. Don't take my word for that, by the way, ask a lawyer!
Admittedly it's all regrettable, that all those webspaces have been lost, and people's files have been lost (if they really have been lost, that is). There is maybe some hope that some of the stuff might be retrievable via The Wayback Machine, and/or Google Cache. You could also phone AOL and ask them nicely if they have got a copy. Another thought is, if you have ever had a copy on your own hard disc drive, you could see if any data recovery company can rescue the "lost" data. (It's true that data recovery companies can sometimes get back data which has been deleted).
A similar thing has happened with Geocities. See The Lost Geocities
Also beware of Facebook, as that may also go belly-up.
The thing is, how to avoid this happening again?! Well, there are two problems as I see it:
1. Free website hostings.
2. Having your data definitive copy ONLINE rather than offline where you can look after it.
The first problem can be solved by having a decent hosting, for example Vivostar. OK, it's not free, but it's not expensive either, and it has the advantages of sleeping in a hotel bed rather than on a park bench.
The second problem can be solved by having your website definitive version OFFLINE. Effectively, you keep the "Original" on your own computer, where you can look after it yourself, and the you publish a copy online. As it's digital, the copy is just as good as the original, but the important distinction is that if you lose the copy, you still have the original in safe keeping.
Other useful references: AOL , Advantages of Developing your website Offline , Data Recovery, Messages not from AOL, and reliable hosting company Vivostar
You might say the moral of the story is "Never rely on AOL".